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As the name suggests, fantasy baseball is not quite the same as real baseball. This is important for owners to remember, as our perceptions of players in the real world can often cloud our judgment when making roster decisions. Just because an actual baseball player helps his own team win doesn’t necessarily mean he deserves a spot on your fantasy team.

That disconnect between fantasy value and actual value is the theme of Week 9 of Three Up, Three Down. The three selections in the Three Up section all are more valuable in a fantasy league than in real life, while the Three Down players contribute in ways that don’t always show up in the box score.


1B Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

Stats May 30 – June 5: 6-for-18, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 3 KPercent owned: 91 percent

It’s been very apparent for some time now that Pujols’ best days are behind him, but that doesn’t mean The Machine doesn’t have a little something still left in the tank. Since May 1, he’s hitting .286/.374/.471 with six home runs and 24 RBI. He’s walked 17 times with only 17 strikeouts over that span, and his season batting average has climbed from .176 to .238.

Pujols has been worth just 0.2 Wins Above Replacement this season and really doesn’t bring much else to the table other than home run ability. He’s a liability on the base paths and one of the worst defensive first basemen in the league, and his 11 double plays grounded into are tied for the most in the Majors, which is a huge detriment to the offensively-challenged Angels.

But Pujols hits behind a strong trio of Yunel Escobar, Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout, giving him ample RBI opportunities. Though his OPS+ is a career-worst 106, he’s on pace for 35 home runs and 113 RBI, which would certainly be a successful year from a fantasy perspective. Pujols clearly won’t be worth the $25 million he’s due this year, but thankfully that’s another difference between fantasy baseball and real baseball — no player salaries.

OF Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds

Stats May 30 – June 5: 11-for-29, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 8 R, 9 XBHPercent owned: 82 percent

In the final year of his current contract, Bruce is enjoying the best offensive season of his career. His weighted runs created plus is a career-high 135, which means he’s been 35 percent better than the league-average hitter this year, this after posting a 78 wRC+ in 2014 and a 91 wRC+ in 2015.

Bruce’s resurgence has coincided with an uptick in his line drive rate — currently at 23.8 percent, well above last year’s 18.7 percent and his career average of 19.7 percent. Perhaps not coincidentally, he’s hitting the ball the opposite way just 17.1 percent of the time, by far the lowest rate of his career. Though his reluctance to go the other way with pitches might point to a hole in his swing that pitchers can exploit, this pull-happy approach has led to better results on balls in play. His .299 BABIP is his highest since 2013 and higher than his career average of .287.

While Bruce has excelled in the batter’s box, he’s been a nightmare in the field. Bruce has the lowest defensive rating of any player in the league, and his ineptitude with his glove has all but negated his strong offensive performance, as he’s been worth just 0.1 WAR so far this season.

Fantasy owners won’t care a lick about how abysmal Bruce is on defense, and should the Reds continue to lose games, there’s a good chance he’ll get traded before this year’s deadline. A change of scenery would likely put Bruce in the middle of a better lineup, which would bring more RBI and run scoring opportunities. If he moves over to an American League team, maybe he’ll get some at-bats as a designated hitter and spare us from watching plays like this one.

1B/OF Mike Napoli, Cleveland Indians

Stats May 30 – June 5: 6-for-21, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 6 RPercent owned: 61 percent

At 34 years old, it seemed pretty unlikely that Napoli would be of much use this season — both for fantasy owners or the Indians. He posted a career-worst 98 wRC+ last year and hasn’t been catcher eligible for some time, negating a lot of his fantasy value. After dealing with nagging injuries the past few years, he seems to have turned back the clock in 2016.

Napoli is making hard contact at a higher rate than ever before, resulting in a 26 percent home run to fly ball rate, fourth-highest in the league. Twenty-five of his 47 hits have gone for extra bases, leading to a .274 ISO, his highest mark since 2011.

Though Napoli certainly has real-world value for the first-place Indians, he’s not quite as valuable as he is in fantasy baseball. He’s been worth just 0.2 WAR so far, and his fantasy value is propped up by his 42 RBI and 38 runs scored — good for sixth and 12th in the Majors, respectively.

Counting stats like those aren’t necessarily the truest measure of a player’s skill level. He’s a poor defensive first baseman and is among the most frequent strikeout victims in the league. As long as he stays healthy, though, he should continue to be a fantasy stud. Cleveland has plenty of good table-setters ahead of Napoli in Rajai Davis, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor, so Napoli should continue to drive in runs, even if the rest of his game leaves something to be desired.


OF Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees

Stats May 30 – June 5: 7-for-26, 1 XBH, 3 RBI, 2 R, 3 SBPercent owned: 88 percent

Ellsbury’s actual value to the Yankees is outweighed by his albatross contract, which will pay him over $105 million through the 2020 season. He’s missed 71 games since 2014 — his first year in New York — and his 2011 season in which he hit 32 home runs remains one of the flukiest power displays in recent memory.

Despite being overpaid, Ellsbury remains the team’s best everyday player. What hurts his fantasy value the most, though, is the lack of production from the rest of the Yankees’ lineup.

Seven of the 10 Yankees hitters with at least 100 plate appearances are below average hitters or worse, which means little run-scoring chances for Ellsbury. Despite his lack of power, Ellsbury has been the team’s most valuable batter this season, worth 1.3 WAR so far.

Still, much of that WAR total comes from Ellsbury’s still strong defensive and base running skills, as he’s less of a threat in the batter’s box than he was during his prime. His line drive rate is the lowest it’s been since 2010, and the Yankees should struggle offensively all year long. Though he’s on pace for a respectable 3.7-WAR season, Ellsbury likely isn’t a top-40 outfielder for the remainder of the season.

OF Adam Eaton, Chicago White Sox

Stats May 30 – June 5: 3-for-24, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 0 SBPercent owned: 81 percent

Thanks to an offseason position change, Eaton’s gone from a liability in center field to an asset in right field, providing a big boost to his defensive value. Despite the shift, the 5-foot-8 leadoff batter has performed more like a slap-hitter than a slugging corner outfielder.

The left-handed hitting Eaton has always had a reverse split, hitting lefties better than righties, but this year it’s become more pronounced. He’s gone a robust 19-for-55 (.345 batting average) against lefties but is hitting just .246 against righties, with 28 strikeouts.

After hitting 14 home runs and stealing 18 bases last year, Eaton seemed like he could be a 20-20 threat in 2016. He’s well off that pace at the moment, and though he’ll help the White Sox win games with his defensive prowess, his lack of power and mediocre stolen base abilities make him somewhat of an afterthought from a fantasy perspective.

2B/SS Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs

Stats May 30 – June 5: 4-for-22, 1 XBH, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 KPercent owned: 81 percent

Since becoming the Cubs’ everyday shortstop, Russell has established himself as a defensive whiz. Though he hasn’t done much at the plate, his minor league track record suggested a breakout season was imminent, especially in a loaded Cubs offense that would allow him to hit lower in the lineup and seemingly take some pressure off.

After two months, we’re still left waiting for Russell’s bat to wake up. He makes highlight plays and is one of the better defensive shortstops out there, but he also ranks among the top 25 players in strikeout rate and has a meager .129 ISO rating. Russell owns a severe home-away split, hitting well at Wrigley Field but not so great elsewhere.

Though he’s yet to break through, there are signs of improvement from the 22-year-old. His line drive rate has jumped from 18.2 percent in 2015 to 25 percent this year. He’s walking more and striking out less than he did as a rookie, as well as swinging less often at pitches out of the zone. Russell is still owned in over 80 percent of leagues, and owners should continue to have faith in the youngster’s eventual breakout — it should come sooner rather than later.